Following the success of his BAFTA-winning debut film In Bruges (2008), director Martin McDonagh teams up once again with Colin Farrell for his second feature-length picture, Seven Psychopath’s (2012); a comedy-thriller that’s both bloody and farcical in equal measure. At the centre of proceedings is Farrell’s Marty, an alcoholic, writer’s-block-blighted screenwriter, and best pal Billy, played with volatile eccentricity by the ever-impressive Sam Rockwell. In a bid to provide Marty with some much-needed inspiration, Billy places an ad in the local paper for a movie project entitled ‘Seven Psychopaths’.
Unbeknownst to Marty, Billy invites characters of questionable virtue to share their tales of misadventure and hopefully offer our protagonist a few narrative strands with which to pick at. However, following a mishap in Billy’s side-line as a dog-thief, the pair soon find themselves on the run from local gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who will do whatever it takes to ensure the safe return of his Shih Tzu and exact revenge upon its captors. What transpires is a gruesome and, at times, hilarious descent into the criminal underworld and the shrieking madness of many of the film’s leading characters.
Aside from the film’s razor-sharp screenplay, which deftly balances farcical comedy with an underlying sense of genuine danger, Seven Psychopaths’ success hinges hugely on the performances of its central characters. Farrell is perfectly solid as the sane man in an insane environment, while Rockwell’s turn as Billy is wonderfully unhinged yet not without charm, rendering him something of an unlikely hero as the film plays out. Elsewhere, Harrelson’s is a perfect fit as psychotic villain Charlie, while Christopher Walken serves up just the right mixture of madness and that uniquely Walkensian charisma with his performance as Billy’s long-time chum Hans.
There’s also a sublime cameo from singer-songwriter Tom Waits as a respondent to Billy’s newspaper ad which is well worth looking out for. Whilst some may criticise Seven Psychopaths for lacking substance the substance of In Bruges, concerning itself with a series of well-executed set pieces and an all too self-aware script, as opposed to working as a coherent whole, there’s little denying that McDonagh’s second offering is an entertaining piece grotesquely funny cinema. One can only hope he’s able to maintain such standards with his next feature.